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RCC offers HOPE for medical jobs

Since March, Megan Jefferies has been the recipient of abundant assistance while working at Rogue Community College toward her certification as a medical assistant.

The 29-year-old's books, tuition, necessary vaccinations and scrubs were only part of it. She also had consistent contact with academic advisers who check in regularly to make sure she's on track. Jefferies had straight A's by the end of her most recent term, and will start her practicum externship later this month.

"It's amazing; I can't even explain how good it felt," said Jefferies, who works as a seasonal dispatcher for the Oregon Department of Forestry. "For them to be able to support me through this made my life so much easier."

Jefferies was one of about 50 RCC students to participate in the Southern Oregon Health Occupations Poverty Elimination — SOHOPE — project, which wraps up its first year Sept. 30.

Funded by a five-year, $14.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Human Services, the program's mission is to serve as many as 1,100 low-income residents of Jackson and Josephine counties by helping them on the path toward one of 16 occupations in the health care industry. Those jobs include nursing and dental assistant, emergency medical technician, medical billing, clinical lab, phlebotomist, emergency room technician, physical therapy aide and sterile processing.

"We're sort of walking through the process with them," said SOHOPE transition specialist Joe Anderson. "It's about this relationship we're building with these people."

The program also paid for 11 new positions at RCC, including tutors, transition specialists and academic advisers, and created new academic programs in pharmacy tech, sterile processing, medical billing and coding and medical office administration.

RCC received the grant in September 2015. Students who qualify include recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and people at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. An individual with no family who makes $21,978 or below, for example, would qualify, according to the U.S. Department of Human Services website. Applicants are then selected by lottery to receive the funding.

Jefferies got a taste of the program immediately. She didn't have scrubs for her first day of classes, so a school official delivered them to her home.

"It was insane," Jefferies said.

In addition to the covered tuition, books and other necessary materials, students can get support with child care, transportation, utility payments and employment-related expenses. Job placement skills, such as assistance with cover letters and resumes, interviewing and conducting of mock interviews, are also provided.

Employment groups such as Southern Oregon Goodwill, Worksource Rogue Valley and Rogue Workforce Partnership offer further job placement assistance, program officials said.

"We have a lot of the bases covered," Anderson said.

Heather Greer, a single mother of two who will begin her own studies in the medical assistant program in the spring of 2017, said that kind of assistance will be helpful.

"(My daughter) is watching me every step of the way," said Greer, whose ultimate goal is a nursing degree. "I'm able to set a really good example for my kids. It's a very great program."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Megan Jefferies